Is Rap Beef No Longer Necessary? [Editorial]
Guest columnist Dart Adams contemplates about when and why rappers battling for their spots on the Hip-Hop map became passé.
Competition Is None © Rakim Allah by Dart Adams
This current Rap era infuriates me to no end. Essential cultural elements have been systematically removed by corporate interests thus doing irreparable damage to Hip-Hop music itself. Recently, Common admitted publicly that the second single, “So Sweet,” from his new album The Dreamer, The Believer was aimed at Drake, as many heads already speculated. Common actually came under fire for this from some people. My thoughts? WHY? Why does my view on this subject counter most modern day Rap fans? I'll explain.
Hip-Hop is a competitive culture by nature. Hip-Hop culture was steeped in the battle, it's how you earned your name and proved yourself to not only your peers but to fans and listeners alike. Hip-Hop was partly born out of the rich gang culture of the Bronx before Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation found a way for the youth crews in NYC to wage war and compete in the same matter without bloodshed.
Whether we're dealing with graf writing, DJing, B-Boying or emceeing there was no way around it, you had to throw down at one point or another. It's what made you sharp. It's how you earned stripes. It's how you gained respect. Steel sharpens steel and your mettle was tested constantly in the early days. Even when emceeing was chiefly about rocking a party from the break of dawn rather than direct lyrical battles, it was about whose DJ was the best and which crew rocked better. Groups never shied from battle then, to do so was seen as an affront to the culture. What happened between then and now that made this all change?
Many legendary MCs and groups held in high regard either gained their name or earned their stripes from battling or going at known artists. KRS One went at MC Shan and the Juice Crew when they were near their zenith. A 13 year old girl named Shante dissed UTFO when they had “Roxanne, Roxanne” blasting out of every boombox from Queens, NY to Quantico, VA. Unknown girl group Super Nature dissed the biggest act on the radio, Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew featuring Slick Rick, when they were getting spins nationwide. We now know them as Salt N' Pepa.
Battles were never seen as a headache or an overall distraction to the music. If anything else, it made it that much more fun to see rappers compete with each other directly. Imagine someone saying that MC Shan should avoid responding to BDP and instead focus on his album and “getting that money” in 1987?
Think of all the legendary battles essential to Hip-Hop culture. Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee. Cold Crush vs. Fantastic 5. LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee. Roxanne Shante vs. The Real Roxanne. What's the last REAL good beef this generation of Rap fans even remembers? Jay-Z vs. Nas? 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule? Roc A Fella (Beanie Sigel) vs. D Block (Jadakiss)? Why are beefs being suppressed nowadays? Why is Hip Hop encouraged to be so non-confrontational and non-competitive now?
I think I know why.
Everything is everything. We live in a world where schools have removed dodgeball from gym classes because kids that were slow and uncoordinated would get hurt or embarrassed. Back when I came up, kids used to fistfight. Once the Crack Era jumped off and guns became commonplace no one was willing to take an L in a fair one for fear of losing face. After the 2Pac/Biggie beef escalated into the so-called East Coast/West Coast beef and they both died, Hip-Hop has been tentative about beefs in fear of them getting violently out of control. The truth is that we still had a fair amount of serious Hip-Hop beefs between 1997 and 2005.
In this era lyrical skills and overall talent aren't as important as sales, spins and “relevance.” Remember when Method Man & Joe Budden couldn't battle each other simply because they were both too busy promoting their respective albums a few years ago? This current era of fans is largely unfamiliar with their favorite artists beefing as a result. When Ice Cube was beefing with N.W.A. I never felt the need to pick a side. When Jay-Z and Nas beefed in 2001 that generation of fans were simply conflicted by liking the both of them simultaneously. Weird.
Given this current era of Short Bus Rap, most mainstream rappers simply don't have the lyrical ability, creativity or necessary skill to execute a compelling diss leading to many of the modern diss tracks being underwhelming. I grew up on “Jack The Ripper” and “No Vaseline” so maybe it's for the best they all just beef on Twitter now? They can't afford to hurt that money, after all!